Honouring an extraordinary educator

Published: Sunday | February 3, 2013 Comments 0
Dr Dahlia Repole
Dr Dahlia Repole

Esther Tyson, Contributor

Today, I honour Dr Dahlia Repole who dedicated her life to the development of education in Jamaica. She made an indelible stamp on St Andrew High School for Girls, her alma mater, and Excelsior Community College in her role as leader of those institutions. However, she was not only an educator, but a wife and mother.

I worked with Dahlia Repole, 'Mrs Rips', as vice-principal at St Andrew High while she was principal. I regard her as one of my mentors in education. She encouraged me, as a teacher of English, to develop my leadership capacity and to further my training in education. She was a good team leader. She knew how to share her authority with her vice-principals. She quickly adopted any programme that we suggested that she saw would be valuable to student development. She was not afraid to share power.

Furthermore, it was while working with Dahlia that my husband was shot and left paralysed. She reached out to my family and worked with the school board to ensure that I was given paid leave to be with my husband abroad during his rehabilitation. This time extended beyond the period for which I was paid by the Ministry of Education. She was a compassionate and thoughtful person.

She has been honoured by both St Andrew High and EXED for sterling contribution to their development. These are some of the words that her alma mater used to tell the story of her accomplishments (much of it my paraphasing):

Dahlia Repole received her secondary education at St Andrew High School for Girls, excelling not only in academics but in sports such as netball and hockey. She represented the school and Jamaica not only in hockey but also as a coach.

After graduating from St Andrew High, she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree and earned a distinction in the postgraduate diploma in education at the University of the West Indies, a Master of Education degree from Georgia State University, USA, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of the West Indies.

After teaching at St Andrew High, in 1975 she was appointed as the vice-principal, a position she held until 1978. During her tenure, she was an outstanding administrator and produced a seven-year school plan which served as an invaluable guideline for the institution's development. She then served as director of EXED from 1982-1986.

In 1989, she returned to St Andrew High to serve as principal for more than 11 years.

Dahlia's love for young people and her deep concern for their total development resulted in her founding the St Andrew Business College in 1991 to prepare students who wanted to enter the world of business.

EFFECTIVE IN SOLVING PROBLEMS

Dahlia also recognised the importance of having a highly qualified staff and encouraged her teachers to pursue continuing professional development. Her personality as a natural counsellor made her effective in resolving problems occurring at all levels of the school.

A true pioneer, Dahlia led EXED to become the first community college to offer accredited bachelor degrees in several academic programmes.

Her visionary leadership motivated her to open off-site campuses in the neighbouring community of Woodford Park and in St Thomas. She also responded to the needs of several communities in proximity to the main EXED campus by designing special adult education and outreach programmes for their residents.

Dahlia's expertise as an educator has extended beyond the shores of Jamaica leading to her serving in many capacities. Dahlia's daily testament, in her own words, was that "helping others makes life worth living". This has been manifested in her energetic community involvement, including her development and management of a small business programme for 30 youth community projects, in her capacity as project officer for Jamaica/Western New York Partner of the Americas.

MOST OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS

In recognition of her outstanding achievements and dedicated service Dahlia was conferred with the national honour of the Order of Distinction, Commander Class. Perhaps her most outstanding achievement has been that of devoted wife, loving mother of five children and a proud grandmother.

Her daughter, Anika, expresses her regard for this remarkable woman, in these words:

"My admiration for this woman knows no bounds. She knew the secret to a balanced life, never having any one aspect sacrificed for the other. She was an amazing educator and put her all into her profession and studies towards her career, yet found a miraculous way to also devote her heart and soul to her family.

"I remember vividly, upon the confirmation of her being approved for her PhD, after her final presentation, that she sat there in front of the examiners with her head in her hands and cried. It was at that moment that all her life's work in education had reached its pinnacle and both a cry of relief and pure joy leapt from her being and into the room. She was so proud and I was honoured to have witnessed this moment.

"However, despite her continuous efforts in the area of her studies, she never shirked her duties as wife, mother, sister, aunt, grandmother or friend. She always had time to listen, to offer her objective advice without judgement. She was the fireside of our family, where we came to be our authentic selves. There was no pretending.

"She was so much to so many, and still she was my mommy and then my friend. My proudest moment will always be when she told me I was her friend and confidante, and if there is one thing for me to value for the rest of my life, it would be that I could have been that to this woman who was everything to everyone else. She will be forever missed, but her presence still lingers in the kiss of the wind on the cheek, the sight of a beautiful flower and the sound joyful laughter."

Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and esther.tyson@gmail.com.

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